The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 has laid the foundation for a booming end of the fiscal year for public sector agencies. But how can agencies use these funds to deliver real progress in their IT modernization journeys? Dan Stroman, Vice President of Public Sector at CloudCheckr, shared his thoughts on how state governments can put this extra funding to wor
Government Technology Insider (GTI): What is the impact of the American Rescue Plan on IT modernization?
Dan Stroman (DS): As part of the American Rescue Plan, a portion of the funds were allocated for IT modernization and high-priority projects through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF). It’s clear that as the federal government creates new plans and budgets to address the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, updating legacy systems, and digitizing processes are top priorities for public sector leaders. For IT leaders at the state agency level, many are already transitioning to cloud-based systems or moving to a cloud-based infrastructure to scale and streamline existing processes. With the announcement of the American Rescue Plan, federal agencies can expect this modernization effort to be accelerated at various levels of the government. For state agencies, some of these efforts can vary by state — but there is an overall push for greater modernization of government IT systems.
GTI: How can state agencies get started updating their systems? Are there any specific tips to keep in mind? Questions to ask before beginning?
DS: When an agency is making the decision to modernize their systems, it’s important for stakeholders across the organization to align on their goals for the project – and this goes beyond IT. What’s the direction of the agency as a whole? What data-driven insights are needed and what will they be used to achieve- such as driving more efficiency or greater transparency? Outlining these goals is a crucial first step for a state modernization project. The next step is to identify the right partner or system for implementation. Many government organizations migrate to a cloud-based system to increase efficiency and leverage automation tools, as well as automate security measures and remain compliant. However, not all clouds or partners are equally suited for a public sector environment, so it’s important to evaluate solutions that offer built-in measures for security and cost that are tailored for state agencies.
GTI: What are the security risks with IT modernization and how can they be avoided?
DS: For both private and public sector organizations who moved to a remote model during the pandemic, security risks became increasingly prevalent in the past year. However, most of these attacks come from avoidable human errors, so it’s important for organizations to take the right steps to mitigate risks to their software environment. For state agencies starting a modernization project, setting up security measures and automated monitoring will help eliminate errors and flag any vulnerabilities to your environment from the beginning – rather than having to backtrack and add parameters after an attack occurs. Other security risks come from a rise in ransomware attacks from outside parties. To avoid damage from these attacks, organizations should have a strong security team and monitoring tools in place, as well as a disaster recovery plan to ensure no data is lost or stolen, should an attack occur.
GTI: What are the immediate benefits that state agencies can see upon modernizing IT infrastructure?
DS: The immediate benefits include the added visibility of data to help streamline processes and an ability to easily scale systems with the agency’s needs. For example, after moving to a public cloud environment such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, a state agency would have easier access to all of their data to streamline processes such as budgeting, reporting, analyzing, and making decisions about people or projects. Not only this, but the ability to then scale quickly to larger data sets or bigger projects is a new benefit. All of this also requires less manual work than before a modernization project, which allows agency stakeholders to focus on higher priority tasks rather than worry about faulty or old systems.
Another major benefit of IT modernization at the state level is to manage costs and resources. Many state agencies are working with multi-cloud environments, and by utilizing automated tools that track cost and resource optimization, they’re able to stay on budget and see maximum results. For example, the California Dept. of Technology’s affiliated “CalSAWS” (California Statewide Automated Welfare System) consortium uses smart tools to manage very disparate cloud implementations, allowing state agencies and 58 county governments to utilize the cloud for managing American Rescue Plan compute and data.
GTI: Are there significant barriers to modernization that state agencies have to overcome?
DS: The biggest barriers to modernization are typically a matter of perception. For example, a common misconception is that older systems are more secure or that moving to a more modern IT solution is too expensive. Many times this is not the case, and recent government modernization success stories are proof of that. Government agencies can have all of the same benefits from a cloud-based solution as private sector organizations – they just have to choose the right partner and be open-minded about using an updated system. It seems that despite misconceptions in the public sector about modernization, most organizations find cloud-based solutions to be more secure and cost-efficient due to the advanced nature and flexibility, and automation that these tools provide. This goes for resource and cost management too, an important part of any state agency. To stay within budget and see ROI from modernization, agencies need to invest in automation and tracking tools that optimize their data insights and ensure their cloud environment is as efficient as possible – busting any myths that the project wasn’t worth it.
Another barrier is trying to fit an existing system into a new one, expecting to “lift and shift” their data onto the public cloud, for example. This model often sets the agency up for failure. A successful modernization project includes building and designing a cloud environment that’s best for the organization – including the right governance and management tools to create a sustainable solution.
Dan Stroman is Senior Director, Public Sector at CloudCheckr.